Tips for managing an online meetup

Even though many of our contributions to the WordPress community take place online, shifting our meetupsMeetup Meetup groups are locally-organized groups that get together for face-to-face events on a regular basis (commonly once a month). Learn more about Meetups in our Meetup Organizer Handbook. to a virtual format brings its own fair share of changes, challenges, and adaptations. For many of us, connecting virtually may be a new experience full of new tools and new ways of communicating.

As part of our Tuesday Training series, we’re sharing some tips and tricks to help MeetupMeetup Meetup groups are locally-organized groups that get together for face-to-face events on a regular basis (commonly once a month). Learn more about Meetups in our Meetup Organizer Handbook. organizers create an accessible and friendly place when connecting with their community online. For additional resources, we also highly recommend checking out the Virtual Events Handbook, as well.

Password protect and manage who can get in.

First things first: part of creating a community space is ensuring that the space is safe and inclusive for everyone. Many of us are using Zoom for our meetups, though any virtual meeting tool may bring with it its own risks and challenges for keeping our virtual spaces in line with the expectations of our Online Code of Conduct.

To help protect fellow organizers and participants, check out the Zoom security settings page. You may want to:

  • Keep the hangout link private until 15 minutes or so prior to the beginning of your event.
  • Password protect or require approval for admittance. This ensures that everyone joining is part of the community, rather than spammers taking advantage of a situation.
  • Set expectations in your meetup invite so that attendees know what to expect in regard to their admission. 

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Virtual Events Handbook

One of the best parts of meeting in person is the networking and connections that come about from being in a shared space with a shared interest. Just because we’re meeting virtually, that doesn’t mean we have to lose that experience!

When planning for your meetup, aim to leave some time at the beginning and the end for a check-in with folks. You can even offer to meet up a few minutes – 15 to 30 minutes – before the event itself starts so that those interested have time for a networking or social opportunity. Leaving the opportunity for some free-form conversation can help to strengthen and maintain our bonds, even if we’re meeting from our respective living rooms.

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Share expectations at the beginning. 

Just as we would introduce new members to expectations and “how things work” at the beginning of an in-person meetup, the same applies to online meetings, too. In fact, it may be even more applicable as your events become more accessible to a wider-variety of people who may or may not have experience with the WordPress community.

Before diving into your presentation, consider taking a few moments to introduce yourself, the group, the code of conductCode of Conduct “A code of conduct is a set of rules outlining the norms, rules, and responsibilities or proper practices of an individual party.” - Wikipedia, and what will be expected during the night’s event. In particular, it can be useful to let attendees know if there will be breakout sessions, activities, or exercises, so they can prepare themselves. 

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Leverage tools provided by the software you’re using.

It can feel less personal to participate and present to a virtual audience. It’s hard to replace that in-person feedback that comes from eye contact, body language, and quick chats after your talk. However, when planning out your meetup, look for ways in which you can make your hangout interactive.

For example, Zoom has features like breakout rooms (for small group conversations), surveys, and Q&As for some real-time contributions from participants. Likewise, rather than relying on chat for participants to ask questions, welcome video questions beforehand or invite participants to unmute and ask their questions out loud. If you want to get really creative, you can explore setting up games in Kahoot!, engaging attendees in, and exploring YouTube Live comments for real-time participation.

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Be respectful of time – and distractions.

Doing things online can come with unexpected challenges. Your bandwidth suddenly drops. Another call goes over time. Partners and kids forget about that meeting you told them about. In other words, life happens – and at home, we may have even fewer boundaries between our WordPress selves and home selves.

As an organizer, keep this in mind when planning your meeting. If you’re doing breakout rooms, maybe it’s best to stick with three participants, rather than a one-on-one check-in, so there’s a buffer if someone has to suddenly drop offline. Allow for multiple avenues of participation, such as video, chat, or submitting questions prior to the event. Understand that folks might disappear or come in and out at times, and set any expectations accordingly. 

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Don’t underestimate the power of a social hangout.

If in doubt, don’t overthink it. If you’re planning a meetup and no clear topic presents itself, consider simply hosting a “Coffee Break” or social hour. It’s also a great time to experiment! Just having an opportunity to casually check-in with one another, chat, and, quite literally, hang out can help maintain and boost the connections between your members – even while we can’t see each other in person.

Above all, it can help to see online meetups as an opportunity. Those who might not normally be able to attend may have more flexibility without the commute to your meetup space. With new members, you may see new volunteers to speak, or even organize, events in the future. By creating a safe space where members can continue to learn, bond, and connect with one another, we can continue to keep our local communities strong!

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